ER Editor: We highly recommend this 40-minute Youtube video on the Spanish Flu titled 1918 Spanish Flu historical documentary | Swine Flu Pandemic | Deadly plague of 1918. The accounts of severe illness, as well as the quantity of dead, which we haven’t so far heard of in relation to COVID-19, are truly shocking. So far, nothing indicates that COVID-19 has produced anything like this.
Wikipedia Slashes Spanish Flu Death Rate From 20% to 2% is a quite a drop. What’s going on?
We’ve had a couple of people BTL take issue with us regarding the case fatality rate (CFR) of the 1918 Spanish Flu. Citing Wikipedia and the CDC, we gave that rate as being between 10-20%. A couple of commenters, however, insisted the actual CFR was 2-3%, and this led us to look further.
What we found was quite interesting.
This is the pre-February 22 2020 opening paragraph of the ‘Mortality’ section on the Wiki page for the Spanish flu (our emphasis):
The global mortality rate from the 1918–1919 pandemic is not known, but an estimated 10% to 20% of those who were infected died (case-fatality ratio). About a third of the world population was infected, and 3% to 6% of the entire global population of over 1800 million died.
This is how the same paragraph reads now:
It is estimated that one third of the global population was infected, and the World Health Organization estimates that 2–3% of those who were infected died (case-fatality ratio).
That’s quite a big change in a pretty short time.
What’s going on? Why is the CFR suddenly being downgraded so dramatically?
The WHO report they use as a source is not about the Spanish Flu, but simply mentions it in passing. It does indeed say 2-3% of those infected died, but gives no source for this, and also claims this represents 20-50 million people.
The trouble with that is the higher range of this estimate (50 million as 2% of total cases) gives a figure of 2.5 billion total cases. Which is higher than the entire population of the world at the time!(1.8 billion).
So something is clearly amiss.
Worse still, the WHO is the only source we have found so far that claims a death toll of 20 million. Most sources, such as the CDC (and see here), broadly agree that between 50 million and 100 million people died of the Spanish Flu (although one recent study wildly differs, see below). In order for 50-100 million deaths to be 2-3% of total cases, there would have had to be 2.5 billion – 5 billion cases.
Obviously totally impossible.
Clearly there is something wrong with that newly revised figure of 2-3%. The only way to make it work is to also dramatically revise downward the number of deaths. And indeed, there’s evidence of editors trying to do that on Wiki, with someone citing a December 2018 study which used a controversial “new methodology” to establish a mortality figure of just 17 million. Given that this number has previously been estimated for India alone, this is remarkable revisionism.
Now, of course, there are debates about numbers of infections versus fatalities in every case study in epidemiology. It’s not an exact science. It’s fluid. Of course, estimates will vary and errors will be made and corrected. There’s more to be said about the inherent uncertainties in these cases, and we are currently talking to a respected virologist with the intention of covering the question further in future. Maybe the previous estimates of infection and fatality were too high. Maybe there is a rational case to be made for lowering them.
But is that what we are seeing on Wiki?
We all know Wikipedia is a micro-managed propaganda organ, so the fact its page on the Spanish Flu began a huge uptick of edits in December 2019, rising steadily until February 2020, and that the bulk of these edits seem concerned with – subtly and overtly – downgrading the severity of the 1918 pandemic has to be of interest.
Why the sudden decision to vastly downgrade the estimated CFR for the 1918 pandemic and source to a rather obscure WHO article that doesn’t even focus on that issue? And, more importantly, why does this extreme downgrade still exist on the page even when editors are pointing out the impossibility of the figures?
At least this new editorial policy by Wiki is well-timed for those looking to stoke fear, and unfortunate for those trying to bring reason to bear. It allows the media and others to cite the newly downgraded 2-3% CFR as evidence that COVID19 is as dangerous as, or more dangerous than, the Spanish Flu and will end up killing millions. That’s some nice clickbait right there.
Is it just human confusion? Maybe.
There is a report by a virologist, and cited by the CDC, that confirms the heretofore commonly accepted 500 million cases and 50-100 million deaths, and adds that this is a CFR of ‘over 2.5%’. Which of course it is. It’s a CFR of 10-20%, as he would be the first to recognise. And 10-20% is over 2.5%.
Maybe his slightly ambiguous wording has led people astray? Maybe people consulting his work, as many do, including the Wiki editors, have taken ‘over 2.5%’ to mean just over, or even to mean exactly 2.5%? Maybe that’s all this is.
But at any rate, the error, whatever it is, wherever it came from, isn’t ours. We didn’t make up the 10-20% CFR of Spanish Flu. It was the standard assessment until very, very recently. It still exists, though somewhat hidden now by ambiguous wording and confusion.
Coming next in my bid to write about nothing but COVID19 for the rest of my life: what are the standard tests for this virus? How reliable are they and should you take one?
Guardian uses misleading data to imply COVID worse than Spanish Flu
Further to her piece about Wikipedia’s misleading revisions of its Spanish Flu page, Catte reveals the Graun up to the same thing
The curious downgrading of the 1918 Spanish Flu case fatality rate, which I looked into March 9, has taken an interesting new turn today, with the Guardian publishing this piece, by science journalist Laura Spinney, Closed borders and ‘black weddings’: what the 1918 flu teaches us about coronavirus, which uses this anomalous lower figure (2.5%) to imply that COVID19 may prove more dangerous than the Spanish Flu:
Last week the WHO provisionally quoted a CFR of 3.4% [for COVID19], which would be alarming if it were correct. The CFR of the 1918 flu is still being debated… but the number usually quoted is 2.5%…
Elsewhere, however she also describes the 1918 Spanish Flu as:
That global human catastrophe, which killed between 50 million and 100 million people…
This is curious for a couple of reasons:
- Because the Spanish Flu CFR ‘number usually quoted’ is NOT 2.5%. It’s 10-20%. Or 50-100 million deaths from 500 million cases.
- Because Spinney herself has pointed out in her book, Pale Rider:the Spanish Flu of 1918 & How it Changed the World, that this lower CFR (2.5%) is irreconcilable with the commonly accepted numbers of dead:
Indeed, as I showed in my previous article, those two figures – a death-rate of 50-100 million and a CFR of 2.5% can’t co-exist. They are mutually exclusive. For 50 million to be 2.5% of all cases, there would have to have been 2 billion cases. If 100 million is 2.5% of all cases, then there would have to have been 4 billion cases. Even the lower figure is greater than the entire population of the world at that time. It’s an obvious error.
But how did it come about? And why is this anomalous 2.5% figure seeing a resurgence of use in very recent days?
A recent Twitter thread by Ferres Jabr, a science writer for the NYT magazine, does a lot to expose how the two twisted and irreconcilable stats – 50-100 million dead and a CFR of 2.5% originally came about. I urge you all to read this entire thing, it’s excellent (the thread is also available in PDF form here, just in case it gets memory holed):
To sum up its findings: The number of Spanish Flu cases worldwide has long been estimated at around 500 million, and this estimate has not changed. However the number of estimated deaths has changed quite dramatically in recent times, and this is the source of the error.
Back in the 1970s, the total number of deaths was estimated at around 20 million due to a failure to assimilate many cases from the non-Western world. The CFR of 2.5% it estimated was a little low but broadly inline with its other figure.
But in 2002 a new study corrected the lacuna in non-Western cases and produced the estimate of worldwide deaths we are familiar with now – 50-100 million. This meant the CFR was no longer 2.5% but now 10-20% of total estimated cases.
Then a later study, from 2006, used these updated fatality figures, but omitted to update the CFR, citing it as still 2.5%. Which meant it was offering the impossible and contradictory number recently adopted by Wikipedia.
Obviously this was a simple error, and it has been pointed out several times in the intervening years (see for example here). But, as the recently ‘corrected’ Wikipedia article shows, it’s proving a very fortuitous error right now for those wanting to instil very high amounts of public fear.
Pretty obviously this innocent error is being exploited as part of a very cynical bid by some entities, including the Wikipedia editors, to make the current coronavirus scare seem, well, scarier. The 1918 flu pandemic is embedded in the collective mind as an exemplar of a terrifying outbreak. If the stats can be manipulated to allow people to claim its CFR was actually lower than COVID19 – well that’s some valuable fear porn for use in articles and headlines, and by sock puppets BTL trying to create memes.
To that end, the current confusion is a bit of a Godsend.
Spinney’s article illustrates this very well. Spinney is well aware of the ‘2.5% anomaly’ as she herself has drawn attention to it, but no reference to it appears anywhere in this piece. And, while her article stops short of actually claiming COVID19 is going to be bigger than the Spanish Flu, the opening paras – which will be the most read of course – certainly leave that possibility more than open, where they directly compare the alleged CFR of the current coronavirus (3.4%) with the 2.5% figure for Spanish Flu – which she knows to be erroneous.
This is cynically providing a nice easy and totally misleading quote for anyone who wants to claim COVID19 is measurably more dangerous than the Spanish Flu, while stopping short of actually making the claim.
Spinney ought, at the very least, to have added her own rider from her own book to this Guardian article, and made it perfectly clear that the ‘commonly accepted’ Spanish Flu CFR of 2.5% is not just wrong, but impossible.
The fact she chose not to, or was possibly deterred from doing so by her editor, is not just revealing of agenda, it’s actually shameful and irresponsible to a very high degree.
The UK government has asked people to report any sources of misleading information on COVID19. This Guardian article is clearly one such, but I highly doubt it is the kind of ‘misinformation’ they want to be apprised of.
Next time I really will be discussing the PCR tests, and the weird story of the ‘unreliable’ kits being shipped out by the CDC, as promised
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